Trail Running in Eastern Oregon
High-altitude single-track makes for perfect long-distance routes.
May 3, 2022
Eastern Oregon is rugged, isolated, and filled with long, empty trails that beckon trail runners to enjoy solitude along stunning single-track. Due to the higher altitudes, which range between 5,000 and 10,000 feet, the best time of year to visit is July through October, when the snow will have melted and the wildflowers will be in full bloom. Three experts who know the trails well share their favorite routes and tips for trail-running adventures with us.
Mountain Runs in the Eagle Cap Wilderness
Located in Northeastern Oregon, the Eagle Cap Wilderness is a special place with unparalleled beauty. Short trail runs are tough to come by here, so expect to go longer distances if you want to capture the true allure of these mountains. Joseph-based Mike Hansen, the executive director for the Wallowa Mountains Hells Canyon Trails Association, shares a few of his favorite routes.
Mirror Lake to Minam Lake
This 15-mile loop starts from Two Pan Trailhead and follows the East Fork Lostine River Trail to Mirror Lake. A couple miles into the hike, the trail opens to a lush valley dotted with wildflowers and mountain views before arriving at Mirror Lake. Stop for a snack to take in the views, and continue west up Ivan Carper Pass toward Minam Lake, surrounded by granite peaks. Return to Two Pan Trailhead via the Minam Lake Trail.
Wallowa Lake to Aneroid Lake Loop
For an epic run, try this challenging 23-mile loop that climbs over two passes. Starting from the Wallowa Lake Trailhead, follow the East Fork Wallowa Trail 6 miles to Aneroid Lake. Enjoy the view and a snack before continuing on to Polaris Trail. Once you reach the top of the pass, head north back to Wallowa Lake along the West Fork Wallowa River Trail.
After your run, refuel at Terminal Gravity Brewing in Enterprise and be sure to check out Joseph, a small but bustling town with a thriving artist community and restaurant scene.
Experience Backcountry Wilderness at Steens Mountain
Tucked deep in the southeast corner of the state, Steens Mountain makes for an adventurous backcountry trail-running experience.
Max King, a Bend-based professional runner and coach for the Steens Mountain High-Altitude Running Camp, shares his favorite trails in the remote range in Southeastern Oregon.
Early summer and fall will have ideal temperatures for running. In the fall, you can catch the aspen groves glowing bright orange and yellow. Keep an eye out for snakes soaking up the warmth during the summer months.
Little Blitzen Trail and Big Indian Trail
To get into the heart of Steens Mountain, the Little Blitzen Gorge and Big Indian Gorge trails lead to two of the five glacially carved gorges found in Steens Mountain. They can be done individually as 10-mile out-and-backs, or they can be combined to create a 25-mile loop with plentiful water and ample shade throughout. Big Indian Gorge boasts multiple waterfalls during the spring, and both trails feature abundant wildflowers that attract hundreds of butterflies during the spring and summer months. Both trails start at the South Steens Campground. Rivers will be at their highest levels in July and August, which can make for trickier crossings.
Pike Creek Trail
This challenging 5- to 6-mile out-and-back run follows Pike Creek around the backside of the mountain, offering a different perspective of the region. Since the trail sits on private property, users must obtain a parking pass from Alvord Hot Springs, 2 miles down the road. After your run, camp on site or stay in the bunkhouse at the springs; overnight guests can enjoy soaking in twin concrete basins. Your legs will appreciate it after the steep climb!
This challenging but not-to-be-missed run starts from the summit parking area at nearly 10,000 feet and drops 1,500 feet in about 1.5 miles to Wildhorse Lake. Due to the technicality, short distance and vertical gain, this is really more of a hike than a run, but for those who want to tackle the altitude and change in elevation, it’s worth it to see what King believes to be one of the most beautiful sites in the range.
King recommends a quick detour to The Fields Station for their world-famous milkshake. He also recommends a soak in Fish Lake on the flanks of Steen Mountain after a good run, and to make dinner reservations for a home-cooked supper at the historic Frenchglen Hotel.
Get Off the Beaten Track in the Elkhorns
Part of the Blue Mountains, the Elkhorn Mountains are situated in Northeast Oregon between Baker City and North Powder. Due to the remote location and their proximity to the more popular Wallowas, the Elkhorns see relatively few visitors.
Bend’s Janessa Taylor, co-owner of Alpine Running, which puts on the Elkhorn Crest 50, shares her top trails in the Elkhorns.
Anthony Lakes Loop
This popular 8.8-mile loop starts at the Elkhorn Crest Trailhead and splits after a half-mile. Follow the trail to Hoffer Lake, a beautiful alpine lake that sits at 7,000 feet. From there, take the Crawfish Basin Trail to the Dutch Flat Saddle. Continue on the Elkhorn Crest National Recreation Trail to Black Lake Trail and follow signs back to the start, passing Anthony Lake on the return. Mosquitoes can be fierce after snowmelt, so carry insect repellent or be eaten.
Elkhorn Crest National Recreation Trail
This 23-mile out-and-back route begins at either the Elkhorn Crest Trailhead at Anthony Lakes or Marble Pass. The route to Marble Pass is rugged and requires a high-clearance vehicle. A shuttle can be arranged with Range Tour & Shuttle Co. in Baker City. This single-track trail has minimal elevation gain, so while it’s long, it’s quite manageable. The high point of Rock Creek Butte at 9,106 feet requires an unmarked scramble to the top, so make sure to bring a map. There is little water along the trail outside of Summit Lake and Twin Lakes, so filter here to top off. The route is very exposed, and the weather can change quickly. Bring layers and sunblock.
Taylor recommends stopping for a brew at family-owned brewery and restaurant Barley Brown’s Beer in nearby Baker City and satisfying a sweet tooth — perhaps with a pecan sticky bun — at Sweet Wife Baking.
If You Go:
It’s always advisable to bring along the Ten Essentials for trail running any time you venture into wilderness, and it is especially important in more remote locations, like Eastern Oregon. Here are a few safety tips to consider when you plan your visit.
- The weather can change quickly in the mountains, so bring extra layers, including rain gear, gloves, a windbreaker, sunglasses and a hat.
- Cell reception can be spotty to nonexistent in these remote areas, so carry a satellite communication device with you, like an inReach or a SPOT.
- The sun is strong at high elevation. Don’t forget to pack sunblock, sunglasses and a hat.
- Pack food and water — more than you think you’ll need — as well as a water filter.
- Check the area for wildfires and air quality before you head out.
- Carry bear spray.
- If you can, run with a friend, and leave a detailed itinerary with a trusted friend in case of emergency.